Tag Archives: Beer

The Jesus Bum The Barroom Chronicles… Episode 16

imagesCAOGENV6The door swung open, nobody paid any  attention. All eyes were glued to the television and the tenth rerun of A Christmas Story.  It was Christmas night and the bar was crowded enough to put a smile on my face. Until that night, I had never worked the holiday, and being my first year at the helm, I penciled my name on the work schedule. I was pleasantly surprised both at the amount of business and the relaxed mood. I didn’t know what to expect, whatever I was expecting wasn’t the softball of a night I was enjoying. Heck, I was so naïve about Montana culture, that three years after moving here, I thought all bars were closed like in my home town. A more cynical explanation was given that by 4:00 PM Christmas afternoon most people were sick of their families and needed an escape.

Cold air swooshed through the open door and accompanied him as he walked towards the bar. His hair was wild and dirty, his face haggard and rife with stubble. Above worn boots were ragged jeans, a ripped flannel and a down vest; he wore nothing else to combat the cold winter air. In his hand was a paper bag, which he set on the bar with a thump.

Could this be The Jesus Bum?
Could this be The Jesus Bum?

“What can I get ya?” I asked.

“Do you know a Blankety Blank?”

“Nope, never heard of her,” I answered.

Cold air radiated from his frown. “How ’bout you?” he asked the patrons closest to him.

“Nope,”  was the resounding answer.

The air seemed to escape his lungs. His head suddenly seemed too heavy for his neck. When he looked back up, sadness swam across the deep pools that were his eyes. “I rode the bus to Missoula, and I walked the rest of the way. I wanted to give her this, but I dropped it and busted it.”  He slid a wolf figurine from the bag. It was a dusty ceramic that looked like it hunted the back shelves of Goodwill, quietly earning a living preying on ceramic dear and elk, until snatched from its den and dropped on some roadside. The damage wasn’t horrible, a front leg had been amputated, but the bum managed to save the dismembered leg.

A crowd started to gather.

“Do you got anything to fix it?” he asked. His voice was quiet, but his gaze shouted. His eyes pierced my recently developing bullshit detector and I had the feeling this wasn’t some ordinary run-of-the-mill drifter.

il_fullxfull.244824797“Nope,” I said before turning to the crowd. “Anyone got any epoxy at home? Any glue?”

Most either ignored me or rumbled no. Someone said yeah, let me run home and check. While we waited the bum asked, “Got a beer? Don’t got no money, but I could use one.”

On a normal night, or if I didn’t have that feeling, I would have been on the verge of saying something like I’m not a soup kitchen for drifters, but I didn’t and instead I quietly poured him a pint of draft. Maybe it was simply Christmas spirit.

Others around him again asked the lady’s name.  He repeated it, everybody shrugged. He gave the address, it was a legitimate address in town.  Time passed, people returned to their crowd or watching the movie. The bum sat quietly, sipping his beer and watching those around him. From behind a cloak of ramshackle desperation a calmness emerged. It bathed him, it gave him presence;  a serene disposition. He waited patiently speaking very little until the door opened again and our local hero walked in with epoxy.  The crowd again gathered and a committee of ceramic veterinarians went about reattaching the wolf’s amputated leg. The bum simply watched.

When the operation was finished he moved for the wolf.

“Whoa, it’s gotta set,”  the lead veterinarian said.

“It’s gettin’ late, she’s probably in bed already,” the Bum said, his calmness slipping a tad.

“Have another beer,” I said. He didn’t refuse.  As he drank he didn’t have much to say. It was obvious he didn’t relish being the center of attention. People flittered away from him and went

The Bar Nazi and the Jesus Bum enjoying the moment
The Bar Nazi and the Jesus Bum enjoying the moment

about doing their things.  Soon he was just another loner sitting at the edge of the bar.  At some point while doing what I do, he slipped out the door unnoticed. Only his empty mug sat at the end of the bar.

“That wasn’t an ordinary drifter,” I said.

“Phffft. Don’t count on it,” one person said.

“You got a lot to learn,” another commented.

“Smelled horrible,” another complained.

And so on and on the comments reigned.  Maybe it was my idealism,  for I hadn’t yet earned my doctorate  in cynicism; I had yet been exposed to the general wretchedness of humankind. That night, I felt like there was something more than met the eye.  The simple events of that Christmas night still give me hope in humankind. Every Christmas since, I’ve wondered about the Jesus Bum and thank him for the lesson.

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The Midgets are Coming, The Midgets are Coming – The Barroom Chronicles… Episode 5

You’re going to have a what?  Really? We can throw midgets? Where did you find the midgets? You sure this isn’t another April Fool’s joke?

No doubt about it, the previous year’s prank was going to be a hard act to follow, truthfully, I didn’t think it could be done. You may remember The Name Change Party.  If you’re new to The Barroom Chronicles, check out Episode 2,  The Prank That Keeps On Giving.

I had serious reservations that the latest idea would fail miserably. The reactions to the previous year’s stunt were such that I thought everybody would know I was up to shenanigans. My level of resignation was such that on the day of the ‘Midget Toss’, I was going to write April Fools across the Midget Toss banner and call it good.

But thanks to the enthusiasm of an employee,  the event created memories, spawned a tradition, and relegated The Name Change Party to ‘opening act’ status.

“What do you mean write April Fools across the banner? Don’t be a putz,”  Wendy Rae scolded  “I’ve been getting phone calls all week. We’re going to pull this off.”

To the rescue!

The problem was, I didn’t have a clue how, and as far as I knew there wasn’t a midget cavalry coming to the rescue.  The joke was on me.  That afternoon, I learned that well laid plans are great, but sometimes it’s better to improvise.  As the hour approached, I left home armed with the two dolls that would serve as midgets, my computer (for DJing), and a reinvigorated imagination.

Anyone who has ever organized an event will attest, the biggest fear is that it will bomb.  Despite all the good intentions, planning and advertising, people will find other things to do that night.  When that happens, it’s hard not to take the failure personally.  Whatever I was expecting driving into town that night  wasn’t what greeted me.  The bar was packed. There wasn’t a parking place within blocks.  The pressure was on; for me, pressure is motivation.

Eric the Midget

During the weeks leading up to the event, I spun a beautiful web of bullshit.  When questioned if this was an April Fool’s joke, I swore that it wasn’t, saying that the date was the only time the midget troupe was available. Then I deflected the questions by saying not only were we going to have a contest for longest throw, but we were going to put Velcro on the courtyard’s fence and hold a contest for highest toss.  I took it a step further and said that Eric the Midget from the Howard Stern show was the headliner.   I later learned the greatest skeptics were won over by this info.  The chief skeptic admitted buying my line after googling Eric the Midget and  seeing that he was a real person.

Up to this point my only real plan was to drop the dolls off at the Fat Belly Deli and asking Guido to hold them until they were needed.

Outside the bar I took a deep breath before stepping inside. The crowd welcomed me like a conquering hero.  As I set up my computer and got the music going I was swamped with questions:  “When are they gonna get here? Where are they now?”

My answer: “They’re coming from Seattle on a short bus. They’re suppose to be here by midnight. In the meantime take a ticket, we’re having a drawing, the winner gets to tase a midget.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Tonight we’re tasing a midget.”

Not quite a midget tasing, but you get the picture?

Now, that was an interesting sociological experiment. Some people were revolted and refused a ticket, others were fascinated, others were excited. One gentleman followed me around and asked for the tickets that others refused.

The buzz generated was as loud as the music. And then, as fate would have it, I received a phone call. Truthfully, I don’t remember who it was or what it was about, but the timing couldn’t have been better.  I got off the phone, went to the DJ booth,  interrupted the song and made the announcement that the midgets had just entered Montana and that they were about an hour out.  A rousing cheer filled the bar.

Fate conspired in our favor that night, the Ghost Rails Inn – our local bed and breakfast – was holding a murder mystery.  A costume murder mystery.  The group was dressed in 1920’s attire and had come to the bar for an ‘after action review.’  Little did I know they were employees of a Missoula newspaper and our stunt got an article.

As the minutes ticked down, I organized my elves.

Number One:  The ‘winner’ of the tase a midget raffle would announce April Fools over the PA.

Number two:  The man who would deliver the ‘midgets.’

Number three:  Two girls from the murder-mystery who  would climb up on the bar and unveil the “April Fools” banner.

Finally the time had come, I made the announcement that the short bus had arrived. A cheer went up.  We held the ‘tase the midget’ drawing. Our ringer was called to the DJ Booth. Guido kicks open the door and throws the two dolls across the barroom floor and yells:  “Here’s your F#$#ing  midgets!” Our ringer cries “April Fools” and the girls unveil the banner.

A moment of stunned silence fell over the bar.  Then pandemonium broke out:  Some people laughed, some clapped; others booed, some called me nasty names. A very large man from the murder-mystery group who was dressed in knickers and armed with a golf club, beat on a doll until he decapitated it.

Me: I was laughing so hard I escaped to a bench outside the front door. Soon I was greeted by a parade of the humorless.  I was called many nasty names, told I would lose many customers and that they would see to that my name was drug through the mud. I laugh even harder, pointed to another banner that read ‘Free beer tomorrow’  and said: “See you tomorrow.”  As you may have surmised, I subscribe to the idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Six months ago, the leader of the group stopped in for a beer. We talked about that night. He asked: “Do you know why I was so pissed?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know.”

“I can’t believe I fell for your crap two years in a row.”

To his credit, the midget toss was two years ago and he hasn’t fallen for another prank. But then again, we haven’t tried.  My dream, to find a big name musician who would play our humble dive on the first weekend in April.  Of course everybody would think it was a prank.  When word got out that it really happened, I would have a permanent prank license.  One can dream.

Part 2:  The Day After

It may seem that the poor midgets got lost in the shuffle. Nonsense, they both have earned their place in infamy. The poor decapitated doll’s head currently rests on the bison’s left horn. The surviving doll didn’t survive much longer. The next day, Easter Sunday,  we pushed the line further and created a new tradition.

A longtime regular, who was a ringleader in the wheelchair episode,  stopped by the get the midget toss story.  Somehow or another the idea came up to tie a noose and hang the doll from the road sign.  Is it obvious we have a macabre streak?  I believe it stems from a misspent youth watching too many reruns of the Aadams Family.

Imagine the scene, a beautiful Easter Sunday, a dozen or so  people of all ages standing on the front deck with hands over their hearts as the noose is set and tied off.  The  ‘midget’ swaying to the rhythm of Jimi Hendrix’s  Star Spangled Banner.  I still chuckle from the looks we garnered from passing motorists, not -to-mention that poor young family, dressed in their Easter best, who just happened to be walking past.

Much like the lighting of the Olympic flame, the hanging of the midget has become tradition.  Almost every special event is kicked off by a similar opening ceremony. For the midget, it’s Groundhog Day.  At least she gets to hang out in front of  a cool bar.

A Wise Monkey… The Barroom Chronicles Pt. 1

“A wise monkey once told me don’t mess with another monkey’s monkey unless you’re holding the banana.”  I’m not sure what it means but considering it’s written on the lady’s room wall at my place of employment, I believe it’s a reminder to the inebriated which monkey keeps the bananas. You see, I own a small town bar in rural Montana, and these are my stories (Cue Law and Order Theme.)

We’ve all seen obnoxious drunks, the kind of ogre that just pisses you off. When you’re the customer, you can tell him to shut up, remind him that he is a rip roaring anal aperture and wish him a painful hangover. You’re lucky, you’re on the fun side of the bar.

Behind the bar, such dealings call for a bit a diplomacy, a heaping of patience, and when worse comes to worse, an eye for retaliatory measures.  As an owner, I have to bide my time and take my shots when I can. Being a small town, customers are not in unlimited supply. In other words, even though I hold the bananas, it doesn’t behoove me to piss off too many monkeys.

When that magic moment comes I can assure you we’re not slipping Visine into drinks – that’s downright cliche’.  For those unfamiliar, that’s an old bartender’s trick. A dash of the eye drop into a libation and obnoxious customer is suddenly puking up his guts. What follows are my favorite acts of vengeance:

1)  What’s that, you only have a dollar ten in pennies and nickles?

Regular number 1 walks in, orders a bottled beer, pays for said beer. Drinks beer, orders second beer, pays for beer, drinks beer, orders third beer, whips out a bunch of nickles and pennies and says this is all the money he has.   Hey, I’m a nice guy, under normal circumstances I’d let it slide.  But remember the law of the jungle: give a monkey a banana, and he thinks he’s entitled to two.

But this isn’t the second or third time it’s happened with dear #1, it’s become habit.  What do I do to get even?  I open his beer, pour half of it down the drain and slam the bottle on the bar.

“You can’t do that,” he says with wide eyes.

“You bet I can,” I say as I dump out a little more.   “You’re paying for a dollar ten cents worth of beer,  you’re getting a dollar ten cents worth.”

It worked,  he’s never short changed me again.

Regular #1 again…  There’s a pattern developing, people receiving such actions are beyond diplomacy.   Said patron was cut off for the night and refused to vacate the bar. You must understand #1 is a harmless fellow, his worst offense is getting in people’s space, playing air guitar while articulating delusions of being in Van Halen.

For such circumstances we keep a valuable tool behind the bar. Technically the act could be construed as chemical warfare, and as far as I know it may violate the Geneva Convention or whatever laws govern warfare.  I walk behind him and apply  a liberal dose of  Liquid Ass upon his backside.  If you haven’t experienced this joy, think of fat ole’ granddad letting it rip… on steroids.   Of course I risk clearing the bar, but because #1 smells like #2 peer pressure quickly mounts. Everybody thinks he  shit himself.  The remaining customers harangue the confused customer till he leaves. Not to mention, next visit he gets his balls busted for shitting his pants.

3)  Regular #2   aka   The Crankiest Prick in Town.   He is also a recipient of two acts of barroom karma.   #2 is such a prick that revenge is justified with every sip.  Words just can’t explain this wonderful human being. If you ever met him, you would be instantly creeped out.  Imagine an old, defrocked priest and you have an accurate picture.

The inspiration for these acts of retribution aren’t even remembered, but I can assure you they were just another clash of symbols in a very long parade of hostility.

On a summer night, #2 irritated me sufficiently to slip out into the parking lot and urinate on his driver’s door and a tire.   An act of silent vengeance that allowed me the honor of serving him with a smile the remainder of the evening.

4)   #2 plays his own trick. The man is so despised that if customers see his rig in front of the bar, they go to the next bar, or simply turn around and go home. #2 has figured this out and parks his truck in front of the bar he’s not drinking in.  One glorious afternoon, #2 parks in front of the bar and walks down the street.  With afternoon business shot, I sat on the deck and watched the local riding club trot their steeds down Main St.  Remember, this is rural Montana.  Along with the horses comes pucky, and lots of it. An evil smile crosses my face and I set off to find a shovel.

Within minutes not only have I found a shovel, I’ve found help. We load #2’s pickup bed with #2.  I get a good laugh. Apparently, my help dislikes #2 more than I do. He asks if I have a pair of gloves that he can keep. Notice, he didn’t ask to borrow a pair of gloves. I say, “but, of course.”  The help proceeds to don gloves and spread some of the horse’s cheer over #2’s windshield. I”m wondering if it was a shitty ride home?

The moral of the story? Even if your bartender is an ass, he often gets the last laugh!